In big cities, the entire place is a huge, friendly dumping ground

Two things that bother me now at this age are waste and waist management. It is rightly said that as we advance in age the breadth of the waist becomes inversely proportional to that of the mind: in other words, the waist grows broader and the mind grows narrower. So all I can do is try and come to terms with it. Now, God answered my prayer, “You always ask for more and more and more, and when I actually bestow you with something more, you complain.” You cannot reason out with the Almighty; after all, I have to meet Him in a few years. So I picked up the subject and placed it along with the heat, smoke and steam, on the back burner — but remember it is still burning, especially when I come across one that can slip into an S size. But the subject that needs my urgent attention is waste management.

You who live in big cities where the entire place is a huge, friendly dumping ground, might not be able to understand or sympathise with one who lives in a small town like Thrissur. The Corporation of Thrissur has strained every nerve in its brain to tackle the problem, but no solution has as yet emerged. So I am on my own. Unlike in the big cities, people in Thrissur are still fiercely protective of the square ‘sight' area outside their house. They will not permit even a small, harmless tissue paper to drop in peace. Signboards screaming louder than newspaper headings like “Do Not Drop Waste Here, Those who Drop Waste Here Will be Persecuted –oops- Prosecuted…..” embellish the entire Corporation. So what do I do?

Life came to a stinking halt when workers stopped collecting waste. I looked out of the window like a forlorn lover. But they did not arrive. I did not realise that I had stood by that window now for three days until the stink of waste blasted my nose. I have to do something about it, I resolved. I was aghast at realising that so much waste is produced in a day and that it can pile up if it is not disposed of daily, that even vegetable waste can stink and that not even the best purifier can dispel it as claimed in commercials, and, worst of all, that waste management is a woman's job!

“What do you do?” I asked my neighbour.

“Well, there is an unkempt property in the next street where everybody dumps their waste. So do I.”

Whew! What a relief!

I did not waste another moment. I picked up the lumpy plastic cover, spilling and bursting at the seams, and embarked on a happy journey, singing all the way to the next street. I was immensely pleased to see a huge pile for, my conscience is so feeble that I will not be able to originate or initiate a pile on somebody else's property. I am not that courageous. I can only follow others. But my happiness was shortlived. There was a huge wall around the pile. On the very top of the pile was a signboard: ‘Dumping waste here is illegal.' These NRIs in Kerala can build walls overnight. So I and my waste were back to square one.

As I made my way back, a speeding car screeched to a halt, the window rolled down, and a quick pair of hands missiled a huge plastic cover out. It landed with a huge thud right in front of me. I stopped short. Immediately, the gate of the house where I stood opened, and out rushed a ferocious looking man. “Not there! Not there! Caught you, caught you. Pick it up, pick it up”. Even before the full import of what had just happened dawned on me, I was ordered to pick up the plastic cover. I protested, “Not mine, not mine.” But he said, “I don't care. Pick it up.”

To cut a long quarrel short, I ended up carrying a second bulging plastic bag of waste. By now I was at the end of my patience. Angry and frustrated, punished for no fault of mine, I arrived at a decision. The first thing I did was grab my conscience and squeeze it into one of the stinking bags, and then I threw both bags over the wall of what appeared to be another desolate plot, and ran for my life. My legs, I realised happily, were still in good condition — but my conscience got back home — now with a stench. Nevertheless, victory at last!

Triumphant, I returned home. On the way, I met a sweeper friend and complained to her of my plight. “Ma'm”, she said, “at least you can throw the kitchen waste over a wall. But what do I do with the human waste?” I looked at her puzzled. “I have got a husband who is a sheer waste. All he does is drink and drink and drink. He sleeps the whole day and in the evening when I return home, he thrashes me black and blue to take away my day's earnings. And then he returns home drunk and continues to abuse me. Can I throw him over the wall?”

So I returned home with the relief that there are people with worse problems of ‘waste management.' And after all, tomorrow is another day, and, thanks to the NRIs, I can find another desolate plot that I can use until a signboard adorns it.

(The writer's email id is joyceejames@gmail.com)

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